Franco-British Labels Revisited


Derek Connell


            Casting round for a subject to display at last year’s E.S.G. Convention, I was inspired by Bill Tonkin’s article in the Summer Journal on the advertising labels of the Franco-British Exhibition.

            There are of course many varieties of colour, paper, perfs. and overprints, not to mention shapes and sizes, and Bill’s article is the definitive study on the subject But because I am a thematic collector (my subject is London) I am more interested in the actual illustrations on the labels.

            Because 2008 is the centenary of the White City I guessed there would be some excellent displays by the experts, so I’d better come up with something original. I decided to mount each advertising label alongside a postcard of the same subject, to emphasise the label’s image. Simple? Don’t you believe it!

            The project started easily enough. There’s a lovely postcard showing the same scene as the “Three Ladies” label. Marianne represents France to the left, and Britannia represents Great Britain to the right. They have been brought together by London in London and the mysterious “third lady” in the middle is indeed the Spirit of London herself She has the Arms of the City at her neck, and wears a turreted crown, representing the Walled City.

            Three different labels show the Court of Honour flanked by Britannia and Marianne, and a fourth shows the Congress Hall. No problems there. Moving North into the Court of Arts, labels were produced for the Fine Arts Palace (incorporating the Imperial Sports Club) and the Decoration and Furnishing Palace. Again, no problems.

            On the East of the Court of Arts stood the Palace of Women’s Work and this is where the puzzle begins. The illustration on the label is nothing like the building shown on the postcards. Instead of the two distinctive towers the label shows a single tower, similar to the neighbouring Palace of Music. However, the tower on the label is topped with a spire whereas the Palace of Music is topped with a sphere.

            On the West of the Court of Arts was the French Applied Arts Building. None of the postcards look like the illustration on the label. Instead of a single tower, the label shows two towers, more like the neighbouring British Applied Arts Building. However, the label shows a statue on the central dome whereas the building has no such statue.

            And what of the label entitled “British Applied Arts Building”? Does it show a building similar to the French Applied Arts Building? In fact the illustration definitely is the single-towered French Applied Arts Building!

            Moving North again, we come to the Elite Gardens, and on the West is the Franco British Pavilion. The squared arch leads through to the Court of Progress, and the Machinery Halls. No problems with these two labels.

            To the East of the Elite Gardens is the Garden Club, but the illustration on the label of that title is quite different! To the North is the Grand Restaurant, and voila, this is the Building! So, the advertising label entitled “Garden Club” actually shows the Grand Restaurant.

            Between the Court of Arts and the Elite Gardens stands the Imperial Pavilion. Here was to be constructed a 250 foot high “Imperial Tower” as a centre point of the exhibition. Despite appearing on many early illustrations, it was never built. The less ambitious Imperial Pavilion was erected in its place. So the label entitled “Imperial Tower” is a work of fiction.

            One other label in this series shows a building. Its title is the “Daily Mail Pavilion” and, thank goodness, that’s just what it shows!

To summarize:-

            Four of the labels in this interesting series issued in 1908 for the Franco-British Exhibition have titles that do not match the buildings they illustrate and a fifth shows a building that was designed but never built.

1.         The label entitled “Palace of Woman’s’ Work” (sic) show an unidentified building, similar to the Palace of Music.

2.         The label entitled “French Applied Arts Building” shows an unidentified building, similar to the British Applied Arts Building.

3.         The label entitled “British Applied Arts Building” shows the French Applied Arts Building.

4.         The label entitled “Garden Club” shows the Grand Restaurant.

5.         The label entitled “Imperial Tower” shows a building that was planned, but never built.

            I think this last item gives us the clue to the whole puzzle. The labels were designed not from real life, but from early architects’ drawings. In the process of constructing the White City some buildings were altered too late for the labels to be changed.

            And to compound the mistake, the neighboring French and British Applied Arts Buildings were interchanged, and the neighboring Palaces of Women’s Work and Music were interchanged, although a label for the Palace of Music (which would have shown the Palace of Women’s work) was never printed.

            If the printers were aware of this they decided to go ahead anyway and hope no-one would notice. And it seems no-one has until now!




Spirit of London in the portico above the Mansion House (Photo by Don Knight) and Three Ladies label

with the Spirit of London in the centre.




Palace of Women’s Work




British Applied Art Building




French Applied Art Building




Imperial Tower




The Garden Club


© Exhibition Study Group 2009